25 January 2011

The Edge of Darkness

Cthulhu Canada – Session 1 – The Edge of Darkness*

Thursday, May 1923

It is a pleasant spring day in the city of Toronto, the second-largest city in the Dominion of Canada. Our protagonists – the surgeon Pierre Rioux [Peet] and the Egyptologist Nigel Blackthorne [Marcus] – are called to the bedside of their former mentor and long-time friend, Professor Rupert Merriweather, at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Professor Merriweather has been a lecturer of ancient history at King’s College** at the University of Toronto for many years. At first as exceptional students, then as friends, and, in the case of Nigel, ultimately as a colleague, the protagonists have known Prof. Merriweather for a dozen years. (Nigel and Pierre attended King’s College from 1910 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.)

Much to the dismay of Nigel and Pierre, though, it is clear that the professor is dying. Employing his medical knowledge, Pierre ascertains that cancer is eating away their former mentor.

Sensing that he is near the end of his days, Prof. Merriweather instructs his former students to take a small metal box on the nightstand by the bed. “Take the box,” he croaks. “All the aid I can offer you lies within. You must find a way to send that thing back to where it came. You must see that this is done. Do it for me.”

At this point the elderly professor begins coughing violently. The protagonists are compelled to leave the room by medical personnel attending to Merriweather.

Retiring to a nearby café, Nigel and Pierre open the small metal box. Within they discover a yellowed envelope containing the deed to a house (specifically, a farmhouse outside a small hamlet called “Ross’s Corners,” located midway between Toronto and London), a key, a small, sarcophagus-shaped gold box of ancient design, and a slim journal bound in leather.

On the top of the sarcophagus are some Egyptian hieroglyphics. Despite his training, Nigel cannot translate them immediately – he needs a couple of days of research. There are some odd carvings on the inside of the sarcophagus. They clearly are not Egyptian. Indeed, Nigel recognizes them as vaguely resembling other symbols attributed to the lost, ancient civilization of ‘Hyperborea.’

The friends part ways for the rest of the afternoon. Pierre reads through the journal, and is shocked by what he learns. Apparently Merriweather was once a member of a student group interested in the occult called the ‘Dark Brotherhood.’ The group purchased the farmhouse outside of Ross’s Corners to conduct their occult investigations (séances, summonings, etc.). After many failures, in March 1882 the group finally succeeded in their experiments. The Dark Brotherhood summoned a horrific entity from beyond the bounds of this universe. The alien entity slew one of the group’s members, and drove another mad. Fortunately, the leader of the Brotherhood – one Marion Allen – had had the foresight to carve various special warding signs over the doors and windows, binding the creature to the house’s attic.

According to the journal, the entity may be driven back out of this universe if the ritual is performed in reverse. Alas, no details of the ritual are included in the journal. Moreover, the journal makes clear that the creature will be freed once the last of the Brotherhood dies. And, sure enough, the ill Rupert Merriweather is the only surviving member!

Meeting up for a late dinner at the King Edward Hotel, Pierre relates his findings to Nigel. They decide to meet up at King’s College on Saturday to determine what to do.

Friday, May 1923

Taking care of their professional duties as quickly as possible, the protagonists spend the remainder of the day researching the contents of the small metal box, and related matters.

Pierre returns to St. Michael’s Hospital to learn that Rupert Merriweather has passed away. The creature mentioned in the professor’s journal – assuming that the entries within it are truthful – is now freed!

Saturday, May 1923

Nigel and Pierre meet at King’s College (where Nigel is a lecturer on Ancient Egypt) in order to discuss their findings. The translated hieroglyphics provide no additional insight. Research at the university’s library reveals that the gold sarcophagus once contained a piece of amber trapping an unidentified arthropod. Tales of the sarcophagus and the mysterious piece of amber date back to the age of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. Apparently the trapped arthropod was the focus of the original summoning ritual. The spirit contained within the arthropod supposedly was a friendly and helpful one.

Obviously, this was not the case…

Various other matters are discussed (inter alia, a newspaper clipping describing Marion Allen’s murder in Montreal in 1882). The protagonists decide to travel to Ross’s Corners on Monday (no transportation being available on Sunday).

Monday, May 1923

Nigel and Pierre arrive by bus at Ross’s Corners around 10 a.m. (unfortunately, no train passes through the isolated village).

At the farmhouse, the protagonists are surprised and assaulted by a maddened hobo. Nigel suffers a nasty blow to the head, and the hobo successfully flees.

Pierre and Nigel subsequently discover various interesting things within the farmhouse, chief among them an old cigar box. The cigar box contains: (1) a sheaf of yellowed papers describing the ritual; (2) a metal canister containing a coarse, brownish powder, which Pierre identifies as containing sulphur and an oxide of copper as its primary constituents***; and a small wooden box with a sliding lid holding a small amount of silvery talc (which the protagonists later identify as ‘Powder of Ibn-Ghazi’).

Returning to Ross’s Corners, Nigel and Pierre rent a room at the local boarding house, along with a pair of bicycles. They also purchase a rifle at the general store. Studying the yellowed papers, they decide to conduct the banishing ritual that night. It must be conducted in the farmhouse at midnight, and apparently will take two hours of concerted effort.

Before returning to the farmhouse, the young men learn that a local farmer’s wife went missing a day ago. Could the unearthly creature be responsible?

Upon returning to the farmhouse, the protagonists make all of the necessary preparations for the ritual (barring the doors, drawing the pentagram and associated arcane symbols, preparing the ritual dust, and so forth).

At midnight the ritual begins! Candles are lit, the brown dust is thrown into the flame within the pentagram, and there is chanting, chanting, and more chanting. The entity returns to the attic and tries to disrupt the ritual by making various eldritch noises. Undaunted, the protagonists continue. Outside the house they hear a woman crying out for help. With iron-like discipline, they ignore the pleas. They also pay no heed to the desperate banging at the backdoor that soon follows. In a final effort to disrupt the ritual, the entity causes vile, horrific ooze to drip from the ceiling, a drop of which burns the arm of one of our heroic gentlemen. Nigel and Pierre persist nonetheless.

Finally, the ritual is almost completed. At this point, a strange ‘whirlwind’ manifestation appears in the midst of the pentagram. Throwing the Dust of Ibn-Ghazi onto the manifestation, they see the creature for what it is, namely, a twisting mass of talons, grotesque maws, and long slimy appendages! [Some mild Sanity loss occurs.]

In the end, though, the protagonists successfully banish the creature from our plane of existence. Outside of the farmhouse, they discover the body of the farmer’s wife. Pierre discerns that she has been dead for almost two days, her heart neatly sucked out of her chest.

Tuesday, May 1923

Nigel and Pierre clean up the farmhouse (destroying the pentagram to avoid suspicion, and so forth). They return to Ross’s Corners and report finding the farmer’s wife to the police, as well as the assault by the maddened hobo. As respectable professionals (a doctor and university lecturer), their account is accepted without question by the local authorities, and they return to Toronto later that afternoon.

Success!


Notes

* I ran a slightly modified version of the adventure “The Edge of Darkness” from the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook (6th edition). The adventure worked very well as a campaign-starter. It helped introduce the world of the Mythos in a compelling way. I was somewhat surprised at how smoothly it went. The players discovered (almost) all of the relevant clues, and did not make any (major) mistakes. I’d recommend this adventure to other starting groups.

** King’s College is a fictional college that I’m using for this campaign. (Historical note: the original name of University College, at the University of Toronto, was King’s College. Peet, Marcus, and I all went to University College two decades ago. So having ‘King’s College’ play an important role in our campaign amuses us. Yes, we are dorks.)

*** Pierre’s Chemistry skill was only 1 percent. Peet rolled a 1!

6 comments:

  1. I doubt that these session reports will be of much interest to most people who visit this blog, although fans of 'Call of Cthulhu' might enjoy them.

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  2. I found it interesting as I ran this adventure twice with two different groups and it went swimmingly with both. It is an excellent campaign kick off adventure, and ranks up there with the original Haunted House adventure which appeared in earlier versions.

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  3. Thanks for your comment, Stuart. I actually chose this scenario over "The Haunting" (which is what the "Haunted House" came to be called in later editions; it is included in 6th edition) because the 'adventure hook' worked better. The premise of "The Edge of Darkness" works well with any kind of investigator background, whereas "The Haunting" seemed to make sense only if one of the PCs is a private investigator (iirc).

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  4. I do think that in many ways this scenario is a better starting adventure for Call of Cthulhu, but I've never had much luck running it. I've done it three times I think, and each time the ritual has been the stumbling block; even people who've never played the game before are sensible enough to ignore the distractions, so the whole thing ends in a bit of an anticlimax.

    So yes, I do think it's a very solid adventure, but I've never been able to get it to work. It's probably the way I run it. I'd like to give it another go, but almost everyone in my group -- including Stuart up there -- have played or run it themselves!

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  5. Yes, I'm very much looking forward to more! I've had "The Edge of Darkness" cued up as a campaign kick-off/intro to CoC for some time now--I ran it once, but that was a long time ago and I'm looking forward to giving it another spin.

    FWIW, I have some CoC actual play reports here, here, here, here, and here.

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  6. @sirlarkins: thanks for those CoC actual play reports!

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.